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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 23

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-25



Deuteronomy 23:1-8

Five classes of persons are here excluded from the congregation of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 23:1

Mutilation was performed by the two methods here specified—crushing and excision. The exclusion of persons who had suffered this from the congregation, i.e. from the covenant fellowship of Israel, the πολιτεία τοῦ Ισραὴλ (Ephesians 2:12), was due to the priestly character of the nation. Israel was a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6), and the admission into it of one in whom the nature of man, as made by God, had been degraded and marred, would have been unfitting; just as all bodily blemish unfitted a man for being a priest, though otherwise qualified (Le Deu 21:16 -24). This law, however, was one of the ordinances intended for the period of nonage; it had reference to the outward typical aspect of the Israelitish constitution; and it ceased to have any significance when the spiritual kingdom of God came to be established. Even under the theocracy, eunuchs were not excluded from religious privileges; they could keep God's Sabbaths, and take hold of his covenant, and choose the things pleasing to him, and so be part of the spiritual Israel, though shut out from the fellowship of that which was outward and national (cf. Isaiah 56:4).

Deuteronomy 23:2

A bastard; one born of a harlot; so the Hebrew word (מָמְזֶר), which occurs only here and in Zechariah 9:6, is said to mean; LXX; ἐκ πόρνης: Vulgate, de scorto natus; the Talmud and the rabbins represent the word as denoting one begotten in adultery or incest (Maimon; 'Issure Biah.,' c. 15. §§ 1, 2, 7, 9); so also the Syriac bar gamo, "son of adultery." To his tenth generation; i.e. forever, ten being the number of indefiniteness (cf. Genesis 31:7; Numbers 14:22; Job 19:3; Psalms 3:6, etc.).

Deuteronomy 23:3

As Ammon and Moab had met the Israelites with hostility, and had brought Balaam to curse them, a curse had thereby been brought upon themselves, and they also were to be forever excluded from the congregation of Israel.

Deuteronomy 23:6

Israel was not to seek, i.e. care for and use means to promote, the welfare of these nations. Individuals, however, of these nations might be naturalized in Israel, and as proselytes enter the congregation, as the case of Ruth proves. It was against the nations, as such, that this ban was directed, and this they had brought on themselves by choosing to be enemies of Israel when they might have been friends and allies.

Deuteronomy 23:7

It was to be otherwise with the Edomite and the Egyptian; though the former had refused permission to the Israelites to pass through their land, and the latter had oppressed and wronged the nation, yet as the former were connected with Israel by a bond of kindred—for he is thy brother—and the latter had received Israel to sojourn in their land, where, notwithstanding the oppression which clouded the later times of their sojourn, they had reaped many benefits, they were not to abhor these nations or place them under a ban of perpetual exclusion; descendants in the third generation of an Edomite or Egyptian might be naturalized in Israel.

Deuteronomy 23:9-11—When the people went forth to war, all impurity and defilement was to be kept out of their camp. When the host goeth forth; literally, when thou goest forth as a camp or host. As in the wilderness the camp was to be kept pure (Numbers 5:2, etc.), so also in the future, when they went out to war, all defilement was to be removed from their host. Every wicked thing; rather, every evil thing, evil in the sense of blemish or uncleanness (cf. Deuteronomy 17:1).

Deuteronomy 23:13

A paddle upon thy weapon; rather, a small spade (the word properly means a pin or nail) among thy furniture, or, according to another reading among thy implements or accoutrements; they were to carry with them along with their implements of war a tool for digging in the earth.

Deuteronomy 23:14

The camp was to be kept holy, because God went forth with their armies, and in his presence there must be nothing that defileth or is unclean. That he see no unclean thing in thee; literally, nakedness, shamefulness of a thing, i.e. anything that one would be ashamed of.

Deuteronomy 23:15, Deuteronomy 23:16

A slave that had escaped from his master was not to be given up, but allowed to dwell in the land, in whatever part he might choose. The reference is to a foreign slave who had fled from the harsh treatment of his master to seek refuge in Israel, as is evident from the expression, בְאַחַד שְׁעָרֵיךְ, "in one of thy gates," i.e. in any part of thy land. Onkelos, עֲבִד עַמְמִין, "a slave of the Gentiles." His master; the word used is the plural adonim, masters. The use of this for a human master or lord is peculiar to the Pentateuch (cf. Genesis 24:9, Genesis 24:51; Genesis 39:2; Genesis 40:1; Exodus 21:4, Exodus 21:6, Exodus 21:32, etc.). In this use of the term there is no reference to severity of rule, as if this were a plural intensive.

Deuteronomy 23:17, Deuteronomy 23:18

Amongst idolatrous nations prostitution was in certain cases regarded as an act of religious service (cf. Herod, 1:199), and both mules and females prostituted themselves especially in the worship of Astarte. All such abominations were to be unknown in Israel (cf. Micah 1:7). Whore; kedeshah (קְדֵשָׁה), a female who prostituted herself in the worship of an idol. The price of a dog; not money obtained from the sale of a dog, but the gains of the kadesh, or male prostitute, here called a dog, as the type of all uncleanness (cf. Revelation 22:15).

Deuteronomy 23:19-25

Certain civil rights and duties are here prescribed.

Deuteronomy 23:19, Deuteronomy 23:20

An Israelite might lend on interest money, or victuals, or other property, to a foreigner, but of one of his own people he was not to take interest for a loan (cf. Exodus 22:24; Le Exodus 25:36, Exodus 25:37).

Deuteronomy 23:21-23

A vow to the Lord, once made, was to be religiously kept; the Lord would require it, and to refuse or neglect to pay it would be held a sin. No one, however, was under any obligation to vow—that was to be a purely voluntary act. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God of free-will (נְדָבָה, spontaneously). (For the law concerning vows in general, see Leviticus 27:1-34, and Numbers 30:1-16.)

Deuteronomy 23:24, Deuteronomy 23:25

In the vineyard or cornfield of a neighbor they might eat to appease hunger, but no store of grapes or of grain might be carried away. At thine own pleasure; literally, according to thy soul, i.e. desire or appetite (cf. Deuteronomy 14:26). Pluck the ears with thine hand (cf. Matthew 12:1; Luke 6:1). Among the Arabs of the present day the right of a hungry person to pluck ears of corn in a field and eat the grains is still recognized (Robinson, 'Bib. Res.,' 2:192; Thomson, 'Land and the Book,' 2:510).


Deuteronomy 23:1-8

Stern safeguards sometimes needed.

It was no small part of the education of the Hebrew people at once to stamp as disreputable the practices of bodily mutilation which were common enough among heathen nations. The honor of the congregation of the Lord was bound up in its freedom from complicity therewith. Eunuchs and illegitimate offspring were excluded from the congregation of the Lord, lest the moral virus connected with the associations of their life should be as poison in the camp. Hence this shield against its poisonous influence is to be preserved down "to the tenth generation," both as a brand on former sin and as a guard against future evil. Sentence of exclusion is also passed on the Ammonites and Moabites (see Genesis 19:36-38). The stain on the origin of these races is grievous. And the new generations had, by their hostility to the people of God, and because of their superstitious arts, shown that naught but peril could attend their admission, for a long time to come. To seek "their peace and prosperity" would have been an increase of peril, as well as a connivance at wrong. Hence it was forbidden (Deuteronomy 23:6). That this, and not the cultivation of needless hostility or revenge, was intended by these prohibitions is clear from Deuteronomy 23:7, Deuteronomy 23:8. Two extremes are to be avoided. No rancor or grudge is to be cherished over past ills inflicted, and yet kindliness of feeling is not to be allowed to degenerate into even apparent friendship with ungodliness and sin. In these facts and precepts the following teachings are included or suggested.

I. The perfection of social life can only be secured when the several members of any society are holy unto the Lord.

II. The outside world presents very much that is the reverse of this, even all kinds of spiritual and sensual wickedness.

III. While it behooves us to cherish a spirit of true benevolence towards all, yet we may never wink at sin.

IV. It may be necessary for us to adopt stern measures towards ethers, even that of banishment (1 Corinthians 5:6, 1 Corinthians 5:13), in order to avoid contamination.

V. We may well cherish, and teach others to cherish, a special hatred of sins of the flesh, since it may not be for many, many generations that blood-poisoning thereby ceases to corrupt or taint the life. Surely men would more frequently check themselves in sin if they would remember for how long they may enfeeble the constitutions and embitter the lives of those who may hereafter owe their existence to them.

Deuteronomy 23:9-14

Cleanliness a religious duty.

The Law of Moses may be regarded as fourfold—moral, ritual, civil, and sanitary. The precepts in this paragraph are an example of the last-named part thereof. They refer to the inculcation of cleanliness, both in camp and in person. And not only so, but to the observance thereof in time of war. While, perhaps, at such times special evils would result from the neglect of such regulations, yet, on the other hand, it would be precisely when movements were irregular, uncertain, and attended with much excitement, that there would be the strongest tendency to fail in their observance. But no amount of war-pressure would be any excuse for uncleanliness. We get here, moreover, an illustration of that which so often occurs in the Law of Moses, viz. that duties of the lowest, humblest, and most common order are urged on the people by the highest and noblest sanctions; and many a teacher may find reason for urging to cleanliness of habit from such a text as Deuteronomy 23:14, "The Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp … therefore shall thy camp be holy." The precise application of the text must, of course, vary with locality and circumstance; but the principle of it includes the following.

1. The presence of the Lord God is everywhere.

2. He is in the "camp" of his people as a special light and guard.

3. Hence every such home may be regarded as a temple of God, the palace of the Great King.

4. In such homes the most menial acts may be acts of service done for God; common work may be dignified by great motives.

5. It will be regarded by a wise Christian man as a part of his duty which is by no means to be neglected, to maintain order and unsullied cleanliness in person and home. This will be part of his life-worship—the living translation of "laborare est orare." This duty needs special enforcement in some quarters. Many a humble Christian cottager elevates his home and all therein, by having it so beautifully clean that, on every piece of furniture, on every wall, on every floor, it seems as if the words were graven, "Holiness to the Lord."

Deuteronomy 23:15, Deuteronomy 23:16

Israel's land a refuge for the oppressed.

(For "the Mosaic treatment of slavery, see Homily on Deuteronomy 15:12-18.) To the features of his legislation thereon this must be added that, as soon as ever a foreign slave set foot on Hebrew soil, he was free. Israel's land was for him the land of liberty!

Deuteronomy 23:17, Deuteronomy 23:18

Unholy wealth may not be put to Divine uses.

(See Homilies on Deuteronomy 15:1-6; Deuteronomy 14:22-29.) The same law which regulates the appropriation of wealth rightfully gained forbids me dedication to any holy use of wealth sinfully gained.

Deuteronomy 23:19, Deuteronomy 23:20

The opposite working of like principles.

The difference here permitted between lending to brethren and to strangers resembles that allowed in Deuteronomy 15:1-6 (see Homily thereon).

Deuteronomy 23:21-23

Vows to God to be performed.

The vow here made is supposed to be entirely voluntary. It was "a free-will offering." In Numbers 30:3-8, abuse is guarded against. Yews made without the knowledge or consent of the father or husband were to be of no force. No priest had any warrant from the Mosaic institutes to come between a young woman and her father, or between husband and wife. Vows to God were to he completely spontaneous, as between the soul and God. They were not to he extorted by others, nor yet to involve the entanglement of others.

Deuteronomy 23:24, Deuteronomy 23:25

Kindliness to neighbors a duty of the holders of property.

This is a very instructive precept. "In vine-growing countries grapes are amazingly cheap; and we need not wonder, therefore, that all within the reach of a passenger's arm were free. The quantity plucked was a loss never felt by the proprietor, and it was a kindly privilege afforded to the poor and wayfaring man" (Jameson). "Thou mayest take for necessity, not for superfluity" (Trapp).


Deuteronomy 23:1-8

The excluded from the congregation.

Certain principles underlie these exclusions which it is worth our while to note. It will be seen that, though bars of this kind are done away in Christ, there was a fitness, under the theocracy, in the exclusion of the classes specified from full participation in covenant privilege, such exclusion being in harmony with the idea of "a holy nation"—type in earthly mold of the ideal kingdom of God.

I. THE EXCLUSION OF THE MUTILATED. (Deuteronomy 23:1.) The idea here is that the preservation of the body in its vigor, and in the entirety of its functions, is a duty which we owe to God; that mutilation of it or dishonor done to it is dishonor done to him—a species of profanity. Those in whom this work of dishonor had been wrought, unfitting them for the discharge of the distinctive functions of their manhood, were barred from entrance to the congregation. The ban is removed under the gospel (Isaiah 56:3-5).

II. THE EXCLUSION OF THE CHILDREN OF INCEST. (Deuteronomy 23:2, Deuteronomy 23:3.) "To the tenth generation" seems to be a periphrasis for "forever" (Nehemiah 13:1). The rabbins take the term "bastard" to refer to children born of incest or adultery. These were to be excluded through all their generations. This principle, irrespective of the ground stated in Deuteronomy 23:4, would have sufficed to exclude Moab and Ammon. The truth conveyed is that the impure are unalterably debarred from membership in God's kingdom. God's kingdom is a kingdom of purity. In its final form nothing of an impure nature will be found in it. Impurity of heart and life exclude from inward membership in it now, and will do so forever. Known impurity should exclude from Church fellowship on earth (1 Corinthians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 5:2). The outward bar no longer exists, and the offspring of impure connection, if children of faith, are welcomed to the spiritual fold. But the tendency of sins of parents still is, as of old, to exclude children from the fellowship of believers. The unchurched little ones grow up outside the pale of ordinances, and tend, in course of generations, to become increasingly estranged from the means of grace. Parents who sin themselves out of Church fellowship thus do their children, as well as their own souls, an irreparable injury.

III. THE EXCLUSION OF THE UNMERCIFUL AND OF THOSE WHO SHOWED HATRED TO GOD'S PEOPLE. (Deuteronomy 23:4-6.) The principle here is obvious. Christ expressly excludes the unmerciful from all participation in his kingdom (Matthew 25:41-46). And there can be no "peace" and no "prosperity" to those who are actuated by hostility to God's kingdom. So long as they retain this character, we cannot wish it for them. Hostility to Christ's people is hostility to Christ himself (Acts 9:4, Acts 9:5), and reacts fatally on the soul (Matthew 21:44). It draws upon it God s indignation, and ends in final exclusion from heaven.

IV. THE ADMISSION OF THOSE WHO SHOW KINDNESS TO GOD'S PEOPLE. (Deuteronomy 23:7, Deuteronomy 23:8.) The Edomite and the Egyptian were not to be abhorred; their children might be admitted in the third generation. The Edomites had not been as friendly as they might have been, but they had at least furnished the Israelites with victuals in their march, while the Egyptians had for a long time shown them kindness and hospitality. For these things they "had their reward." Acts of kindness to God's people do not entitle to admission into God's kingdom, but they show a "nighness" of spirit to it, and are remembered in God's dealings with the doers of them, and may issue in their final salvation (Matthew 10:42). Note: Past kindnesses are not to be forgotten because of a late change of disposition. The Egyptians were kindly remembered, though their treatment of the Israelites had latterly been very cruel. It is to be remarked also that the tone in which Edom is uniformly referred to in this book does not in the least harmonize with the late date assigned to it by many critics. Edom, in the time of the prophets, had become Israel's implacable foe.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 23:5

The curse turned into a blessing.

No enchantment, no curse of evil men, can prevail against the people of God. Contrariwise, God will turn the curse into a Messing. In Malachi, on the other hand, he threatens to "curse the blessings" of the wicked (Malachi 2:2). How does God turn the curse into a blessing?

1. Directly, by substituting a blessing for a curse. The curse is not merely not allowed to take effect for harm, but God puts a blessing in its stead. A Divine law of compensation comes into operation. The wicked is punished, and the object of his unrighteous hatred consoled and rewarded, by the curse being read backward, and made a reason for conferring blessing. The very curses of the wicked are thus a means of enrichment to the good. Balaam's curses were thus changed into blessings (Numbers 23:1-30; Numbers 24:1-25.).

2. Providentially, by overruling the designs of evil men for their own confusion, and for his people's good. We have examples in the histories of Joseph (Genesis 1:20), of Mordecai and the Jews (Esther 6-10.), of Daniel (Daniel 6:1-28.). The persecutions of the Church have thus been overruled for the extension of the gospel (Acts 11:19). The highest example is the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 3:13-19).

3. Spiritually, by turning outward afflictions into means of spiritual good.

(1) Afflictions humble, chasten, purify (Job 42:4, Job 42:5; Psalms 119:71).

(2) God can turn afflictions into sources of comfort and. joy, into occasions of higher glory to himself, into means of salvation and glory to the saint (Acts 16:25; Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 2Co 12:10; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 1:19).

(3) God can overrule even punishment of sin for our ultimate good. Levi (Genesis 49:7).—J.O.

Deuteronomy 23:9-14

Purity in the camp.

The camp was to be free from:

1. Moral pollution (Deuteronomy 23:9).

2. Ceremonial pollution (verses10, 11).

3. Natural pollution (Deuteronomy 23:12, Deuteronomy 23:13)—M. Henry.

This, because God was in its midst. He was there to work for their deliverance and for the confusion of their enemies. We are taught—

I. THAT MILITARY LIFE IS NO EXCUSE FOR LAXITY IN MORALS, OR FOR A LOWERED STANDARD OF PROPRIETY IN CONDUCT. The opposite opinion too commonly prevails. Immoralities are winked at in soldiers and sailors which would not be tolerated in ordinary society; nay, are sometimes half justified as a necessity of their situation. When public opinion is in this easy state, we cannot wonder that the individuals themselves are not very strict about their behavior. They find Acts passed, e.g. to protect them in their evil courses, and they naturally suppose that they have a kind of sanction for their immorality. Officers do not always set the men the best example. This is in every sense to be deplored. Immorality does not change its nature in the barrack-room or on the march. Rather, when "the host goes forth' we should try to put away from us "every wicked thing." Only then can we confidently expect God's presence to go with us, or look to him for aid in battle. Compare Carlyle's account of Cromwell's army ('Cromwell,' vol. 2; at end), and the "prayer-meeting" of the leaders. See also Baillie's account of the encampment of the Scotch Covenanters at Dunse Law ('Letters,' 1:211).

II. THAT PURITY IS REQUIRED IN THE CAMP OF THE CHURCH, IF HER WARFARE IS TO BE SUCCESSFULLY ACCOMPLISHED. In spiritual conflicts, above all, we must look to spiritual conditions. The Church is an army of Christ. She is organized for aggressive and defensive warfare. Her only hope of success lies in the presence of the Lord with her. But can she hope for this presence if she is not careful to maintain her internal purity? True, she has no commission to search the heart, and must be content to allow tares to mingle with the wheat (Matthew 13:24-31). But it is within her province, in the exercise of discipline, to remove obvious scandals, and by rebuke and censure, as well as by positive teaching and persuasion, to keep down worldliness, irreligion, and sensuality, when these make their appearance m her midst. She ought to pray, labor, and use her authority for the maintenance of her purity. The purer she is internally the more resistless will she be in her assaults on evil without.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 23:15-23

Various precepts

No very close connection exists between the precepts in these verses, yet they are variously related, and suggest by their juxtaposition lessons of importance. We have—

I. A WORD SPOKEN IN THE INTERESTS OF LIBERTY. (Deuteronomy 23:15, Deuteronomy 23:16.)

1. The fugitive slave is not to be given back to his master. The case is that of a slave escaping from a heathen master. The spirit of the Mosaic Law is wholly opposed to slavery. This precept anticipates our own law, that a slave setting foot on British territory is free.

2. Every encouragement is to be given him to settle in the land. He is not to be oppressed or treated with unkindness, but is to be allowed to settle where he pleases. The holy land was thus a true asylum for the oppressed.

II. A BLOW STRUCK AT LEWDNESS. (Deuteronomy 23:17, Deuteronomy 23:18.) The lawgiver alone, so far as we know, among ancient nations, lays his axe at the root of this great evil. He refuses to it the least toleration. He is right. The prevalence of lewdness in a land blights and withers everything good. It saps the manhood of the nation, destroys its love of liberty (2 Peter 2:19), turns religion to hypocrisy (Matthew 23:25-29), kills humane feeling, dissolves domestic ties, and degrades the wretched victim of it to the lowest point of brutishness—

"It hardens a' within,
And petrifies the feeling!"


The contrast between the noble severity of the Bible teaching on this subject, and the wretchedly low tone of the teaching of such writers as Bolingbroke, or even of Hume, is very noteworthy.


1. The lender is not permitted to exact usury from his brother (Deuteronomy 23:19, Deuteronomy 23:20). That the taking of interest was not regarded as in itself sinful is plain from the permission to take usury from a stranger. But in the circumstances of the time, and in view of the design of the lawgiver to cheek rather than to encourage extensive commercial operations on the part of the Jews, the law was a wise one, and tended to repress covetousness in a form which would very readily have developed itself. Lending was to be free and cordial, and God's blessing, the best usury, was promised in return.

2. Vows were to be faithfully performed (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). This checked covetousness, so far as that might prompt the person vowing to grudge payment when the time for paying his vow arrived. The vow was in his own choice, but, if made, it was to be religiously performed (Ecclesiastes 5:4, Ecclesiastes 5:5). It is easier to vow than at the proper time to make the sacrifices which the vow demands.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 23:24, Deuteronomy 23:25

The vineyard and corn-field.

This law may be regarded:

1. As another check on covetousness. It restricted the operation of covetousness in the owner, and taught him to be generous and charitable.

2. As part of the Jewish provision for the poor (cf. Deuteronomy 24:19, Deuteronomy 24:20).

3. As a lesson in honesty. It taught those who used the privilege to restrain themselves to their immediate wants, and to respect on principle the rest of their neighbor's property. It taught them to be honest by trusting them.

4. As giving every one an interest in the fruitfulness of the land. Custom and the force of public opinion would guard the law from abuse.—J.O.


Deuteronomy 23:1-8

The congregation of the Lord jealously guarded.

There has been considerable controversy about what the term" entering into the congregation of the Lord signifies. It cannot be the Old Testament equivalent for our "communicants," or "Church members;" for it would seem from Exodus 12:48, Exodus 12:49, that Jewish privileges were open to strangers on condition of their circumcision. Nor need we interpret it as merely indicating the marriage connections which Israelites were to avoid. We are satisfied with the interpretation, received by many, that the congregation (קָהַל) does not always signify the sum total of the people, but the great assembly of elders. The prohibitions in this passage would, therefore, mean prohibitions from holding office in the theocracy; in fact, they show those who were ineligible to the Jewish eldership. The ineligible parties are—

1. Eunuchs. For physical perfection was indispensable in a kingdom typically and ideally to be perfect. Besides, it has been said that this excluded class are deficient in courage, which the elders required. £

2. Those whose family had the "bar sinister" within ten generations. This was a great penalty against concubinage, and must have made the Jews most particular about the legality of their marriages.

3. Amorites and Moabites. They are treated like those with the "bar sinister," as a judgment on their inhuman treatment of Israel. So that there was caution to be exercised in the admission of outsiders to the honors of the Jewish commonwealth.

4. Edomites and Egyptians. They could not enter themselves, but their grandchildren were eligible. They were not kept waiting so long at the door as those previously mentioned. This jealous guarding of the gate is surely instructive.

I. IT SHOWS US THE DUTY OF LAYING HANDS SUDDENLY UPON NO MAN. This was Paul's direction to Timothy regarding the ordination of elders (1 Timothy 5:22). Their selection was so important, that it should not be hastily or carelessly done. They should get time to prove themselves as worthy. And our ideal of Church officers should be so high as to allow of the introduction of no ill-qualified person through our haste or careless selection.

II. A CHURCH SHOULD MAINLY PRODUCE ITS OWN OFFICERS. Just as breeding is so important physically, so is Church training spiritually. It is the children in the tenth generation of the bastard who are, so to speak, by their ecclesiastical development through nine previous generations in ecclesiastical connection, to wipe out the ill effects of the "bar sinister." The grandchildren of the Edomite and Egyptian are to be eligible, because for three generations connected with the Church. That Church will be strong who can train up from among her own children the officers she needs.

III. OFFICE IN GOD'S CHURCH SHOULD BE THE HIGHEST AMBITION. For people are not in a wholesome state when they place offices in the world before those in the Church. God's service is highest service, whatever current opinion may be. Let the thought of holding office in the Church of God be held before Church members as the very noblest ambition for themselves or their children, and then shall the Church he placed upon the pinnacle it deserves.—R.M.E.

Deuteronomy 23:9-14

A pure camp for a pure King.

After insisting on purity giving power in war (Deuteronomy 23:9), and giving direction to men about putting away uncleanness which may be due to natural causes, Moses urges the precaution, because the All-seeing One walketh through the camp, Inspector of all their ways (Deuteronomy 23:14). The directions here given might have been urged on sanitary grounds, but Moses puts them deliberately upon religious. For the experience among Orientals and Occidentals is that something more than sanitary reasons is needed to overcome man's indolence and keep him clean.

I. CLEANLINESS MAY BE RAISED INTO A PHASE OF GODLINESS. In the proverb it is said to be next to godliness; but here Moses makes it a part of godliness. Religion comes to the aid of science, and helps by its sanctions the wise regulations suggested by science. Witness how painfully slow remedial and sanitary measures are in getting adopted. It would be well if religion could aid the civil power in making sanitation a sacred thing in the eyes of the people,

The reason why cleanliness is not more sacred than it is, is a latent Manichaeanism, which seems to lurk in human nature; as if matter were essentially unholy, and could not be made sacred. But the religion of Christ lays hold of body as well as soul, and urges amens sana in corpore sago, and promises the perfection of its idea in a bodily resurrection. There is, consequently, a physical side to our religion, which should find expression in the consecration of cleanliness, and divers washings, and food and drink; all that religion may be a more manly and efficient thing. We believe thoroughly in the religious duty of denouncing dirt.

II. RELIGION IS LIFE SPENT IN THE REALIZED PRESENCE OF GOD. "Thou God seest me" is the watchword of religion. When all our life is brought under his eye, when we believe that the commonest and most trivial things are not beneath his notice, when we desire to hide nothing from him by night or by day,—then the light of his pure being illumines and regulates all, and the highest purity is reached. "Muscular Christianity" is a good idea, if by it we mean that Christianity has a physical as well ,as spiritual sphere. No efforts of our own, muscular or otherwise, will ever save us; but, being saved by Divine grace, our whole being, muscles and all, is at God's service. Religion in everything is the sense of God all through, and this should be our aim.

III. GOD IS THE CAPTAIN ONLY OF THE PURE. A holy camp is the preliminary to God leading Israel successfully against the enemy (Deuteronomy 23:14). The pure in heart see God and follow him to victory. It is the state of the camp of Israel, not the state of their enemies, that is all important. If Israel is impure, it will soon prove impotent. The pure are, in the long run, the powerful. God is on the side, not of the heaviest, but of the purest battalions. Really religious men are ultimately, under God, victorious.—R.M.E.

Deuteronomy 23:15, Deuteronomy 23:16

The Hebrew fugitive law.

We have here a most remarkable law, entirely in the interests of the slave, and showing conclusively that no such thing as property in mankind was recognized in the theocracy. When a slave ran away, the person to whom he repaired is directed to harbor him and give him a place with his servants, but not to restore him to his former master. Here, then, is a fugitive law such as permitted no such monster as a slave-hunter to defile the land of Palestine.

I. THE BIBLE RECOGNIZES NO PROPERTY IN MAN. We cannot do better than quote from Dr. Cheerer's 'God against Slavery,' He says, "The Jewish Law strictly forbade any one from ever returning unto his master that servant that had fled from his master to him. If an ox or an ass had strayed from its owner, any one finding the beast was commanded to restore it to its owner as his property; but if a man's servant had fled away, every one was in like manner forbidden to restore him, demonstrating in the strongest manner that a servant was never regarded as property, and could not be treated as such. A man's ox belonged to him, and must be restored to him as his property; but a man's servant did not belong to him, and could not be his property, and, if he chose to take himself away, was not considered as taking away anything that belonged to his master or could be claimed and taken back by him. It is not possible for an incidental demonstration to be stronger than this."

II. RUNAWAY SLAVES ARE ENTITLED TO AN OPPORTUNITY OF EARNING A LIVELIHOOD. Not only is he not to be restored, but he is also to be allowed a place in the establishment to which he has escaped. Doubtless he had a good idea of a vacancy being there, and the need for an extra servant. In such a case he is to get his chance, and be allowed without oppression to earn his livelihood. We do not assert that every human being, no matter how "heart-lazy," has a right to a living; but every one has surely a right to a livelihood. It is the organization of labor and livelihoods, rather than poor-laws, that should engross the attention of philanthropists.

III. WHILE MEN HAVE NO RIGHT TO OUR PERSONS, GOD HASWE ARE HIS. We are God's slaves. "We are bought with a price," and therefore bound to glorify trim with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). He has a title to us by virtue of creation; but for him we should not have existed. He has a title to us by virtue of his providence; for in him we not only live, but move and have our being. He has a title to us by virtue of redemption; for he has redeemed us at no less a cost than the blood of his Son. He has a title to us by virtue of his inspirations; for any good and holy desires and aspirations we entertain are through the indwelling of his Spirit. If we intelligently recognize our position, we shall own our obligations to him, and acknowledge we are slaves of God. But his slavery is "perfect freedom." Better to be the Lord's slave than the world's freeman. His Law is "the perfect Law of liberty," and when under it we are realizing that broadest phase of freedom which has made his slaves the mightiest of men.—R.M.E.

Deuteronomy 23:17-25

Money-making must be above suspicion.

We have in these verses an excellent lesson upon mercantile morality. There are too many people in this world who are not at all particular how money is made, if only it be made. "The wages of iniquity" are as welcome to them as to Balaam. But it is plain from these verses that the Lord does regard the way money is won, and will not handle what has come licentiously himself, nor give any countenance to his people in doing so.

I. MONEY MADE BY WICKEDNESS IS ABHORRED OF GOD. The wretched woman who lives by her own dishonor, the wretched man who lends himself to licentiousness, are both intolerable to the Divine King. The idols of the heathen may receive the wages of licentiousness, and be served by lewd women, as the history of heathenism shows, but God will have no such dedications polluting his house. As the Holy One, he will not be served by the deliberately unholy and profane.

II. MONEY MADE OUT OF THE NEEDS OF THE POOR SAINTS IS ALSO AS ABOMINATION TO GOD. It was a noble law that Jew was not to play the money-lender to few. To extort from a brother what his needs can ill afford to pay, is forbidden. The Jews were to be brothers indeed, in readiness to lend without hope of recompense. And although this arrangement may not be literally binding under this dispensation, there is a general idea abroad of the undesirableness of making money out of God's poor people. There is to be special consideration shown surely to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). We should suspect a man of worldliness who extorted big interest from a struggling Church, when well able to advance the desperately needed loan.

III. A SPHERE FOR USURY IS RECOGNIZED BY THE LORD. The stranger may borrow under an engagement to pay interest. This is only right. If usury were universally forbidden, the world of commerce would come to a standstill. Capital would not accumulate if it had no reward awaiting it. The stranger, consequently, comes and asks the favor of a loan. He has no claim on you for it, but he is willing to pay a fair price for the obligation. The whole edifice of commerce rests upon the legality of such a transaction, it is a mutual benefit.

At the same time, there may be extortion and speculation in usury, just as in other lines of business; and God shows that "extortioners" (1 Corinthians 6:10) have no part in his kingdom. It is selfishness pure and simple, and in its most tyrannical and despicable form.

IV. ALL VOWS REGISTERED IN CONNECTION WITH OUR MONEY-MAKING MUST BE FAITHFULLY PERFORMED. It is almost a natural instinct that vows should be made unto the Lord in connection with our prosperity. Often a person struggling to realize an "honest profit," while the transaction is only in progress, and the issue is still uncertain, dedicates a proportion, if the Lord send him success; or a proportion of a new crop, if it be a good one. Such vows must never be recalled, but always honor-ably met. "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay" (Ecclesiastes 5:5).

V. THE RIGHTS OF THE HUNGRY SHOULD ALSO BE RESPECTED IF A LAND IS TO ENJOY SUCCESS. The vines are so productive in Palestine, when properly cultivated, and the vineyards so unprotected, that a hungry passenger may fill himself and no one be a bit the poorer. Or he may enter the field of standing corn and make what use he can of his hands. In other words, the hungry was regarded as having a right to satisfy the cravings of nature and to pass on.

And when it was placed on the statute-book as a right, it saved the poor man's self-respect and never interfered with his personal freedom. This "poor-law" gives man his need without asking him to surrender his liberty. This is its beauty, it meets the pressing necessity without destroying the person's legitimate self-respect. Liberty is more precious to any upright soul than bread; and it is a wholesome instinct which, as far as possible, should be respected in any beneficent national arrangement.—R.M.E.


Deuteronomy 23:1-6

Loss of sacred privilege a grievous penalty.

In such passages as this, very much more is intended than is expressed. We have to read between the lines, for only they who lived in those days of Jewish life could comprehend the shadowy hints, the pregnant suggestions, which are here reduced to words.

I. THE ABUSE OF REPRODUCTIVE VITALISM IS A GIGANTIC SIN. The law of the natural kingdom, with regard to every species of life, that its "seed should be in itself," obtains in man its highest form. But here human inclination, passion, will come into play. It is an honor which God has conferred upon us, in that he has made us agents co-operating with him in the perpetuation of the human race. And the abuse of this function is followed forthwith by the Divine censure. In many cases, judgment swiftly follows upon the heels of the sin. As at Bethpeor, sudden and overwhelming penalty fell upon the Jewish culprits who yielded to the seductive snares of the Moabite women, so that there fell of the Hebrews four and twenty thousand men; so summary vengeance falls upon such transgressors still. Adultery and incest are stamped with the red brand of God's hottest wrath. One feels in reading the shameful narrative of Lot's incest at Zoar, as if the historian had not left on it the burning stigma of indignation; but we may draw no such conclusion from his silence. In this chapter we perceive how the blank is filled. The issue of that incestuous intercourse are branded with perpetual shame.


1. It begets callous selfishness in posterity. God did not forget that the Moabites and Ammonites refused the common necessaries of life to the Hebrews, who sought nothing more than a friendly passage through their territory. Although this sin was a branch and offspring from the first, it was something new, and demanded fresh chastisement. For every offence in God's kingdom there is prepared a just measure of retribution.

2. It begets malicious opposition. They hired, in their blindness, the services of Balaam, the sorcerer, in the hope that he would blast and ruin them with his witchery and curse. The end was frustrated. The purchased curse was changed into blessing. Nevertheless, the intention was criminal. The hearts of the Moabites burned with hate for their kinsmen; and base intentions shall be scourged.

3. It begets idolatry and blind fanaticism.

III. SUCH EVILS CULMINATE IN JUSTEST PUNISHMENTS. Suitable penalties begin to appear in this life.

1. There is the loss of external privilege. Such "shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord." What? Not when the present generation has passed away? No; not to the tenth generation! No; not forever. Possibly the culprits despised the privilege, mocked at the loss. But none the less was it an immeasurable loss, a terrible privation. It is not said that a penitent Moabite should not be forgiven—should not obtain eternal life. Yet the loss of external instruction and help lessened the probability that penitence would visit the soul. We do ourselves wrong when we contemn religious privilege.

2. There is the loss of friendly intercession. "Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity … forever." Prayer for such is interdicted. Brotherly sympathy is denied. The Hebrews were ordained to be a nation of priests. The intention was that, by virtue of their growing piety, they should be, as an entire nation, the priests of the Lord, while foreigners should immigrate to be their husbandmen and vine-dressers. By reason of the Jew's superior knowledge of God, they might be successful intercessors for other nations. But from this gracious privilege the Moabites and Ammonites were permanently excluded. Despise not the prayers of the devout.—D.

Deuteronomy 23:7, Deuteronomy 23:8

Terminable chastisements.

The sting in God's curse is its irreversibleness. The bitter draught is dashed with mercy when we have prospect that it shall cease.

I. THE CONDUCT OF SOME MEN IS A STRANGE ADMIXTURE OF GOOD AND BAD. There were some fine traits in Esau's character commingled with coarse and selfish obstinacy. Light was interfused with darkness. The treatment of Israel by the Edomites was not the most friendly, nor was it decidedly hostile. It was marked by haughty reserve rather than by malignant hostility. So also the Egyptians were not wholly antagonistic to Israel. For more than four hundred years the Hebrews had found sustenance and shelter in Goshen. If the last Pharaoh had oppressed them with bitter bondage, a former Pharaoh had blest them with unusual kindness. From desolating famine, Egypt had shielded them. This shall not be forgotten; it shall temper chastisement. The remoter peoples shall be admitted to God's kingdom, while those nearer at hand shall be excluded.

II. SUCH CONDUCT RECEIVES DUE MEASURE OF CHASTISEMENT. It is impossible to entertain the best feelings of affection towards such persons. Yet we are to be just in our estimate of them. We are not to fasten our eyes only on the dark side of their characters. As far as it is possible we should be generous in feeling. "Thou shalt not abhor them." The present generation of such, and their children, shall be excluded from the privileges of the righteous. But there the ban shall terminate. If children of wisdom, we shall endure such chastisement with patient resignation—

"For patient suffering is the link
That binds us to a glorious morrow."

III. THE INHERITANCE OF BLESSING IS IN REVERSION. "Weeping may endure for a night: joy cometh in the morning." The night is temporary; the day will be eternal. However dark be their present lot under the frown of Jehovah, the light of hope shines beyond—lights up the future. We live in our children. It alleviates our present burden when we are assured that our children shall be exempt. More often should we stand in awe of sin, if we did but perceive the miseries we were entailing on posterity. The revelations of the future are a valuable guide for the present.—D.

Deuteronomy 23:15, Deuteronomy 23:16

Sympathy for the oppressed.

It is supposed that oppressive forms of slavery existed among the neighboring nations; and it might be anticipated that the oppressed would seek asylum among the people of God. The social atmosphere was to be that of healthful freedom, which is fatal to inhuman thraldom.

I. WE SEE SOCIAL RELATIONSHIP IN ITS EXTREME LIMITS. One is a master; one is a slave. One has risen to power; one has sunk into weakness. Humanity has immense capacity for rising and falling. Such abject dependence may be the result of external calamity, or it may be the effect of culpable folly.

II. THIS PROPRIETORSHIP IN MAN IS CAPABLE OF GREAT ABUSE. A slave-master must have great self-restraint if he does not abuse his purchased power. To no man ought irresponsible control over his fellows be entrusted. The temptation to encroach on human rights is too great to be put within any man's reach. Good men will use every position they occupy so as to do good to others; and even a slave-holder may be a source of large blessing. On the other hand, coarse and cruel men can turn the institution into a nest of villainy.

III. ABUSE OF SLAVERY MAY BECOME SELF-CURATIVE. A reflecting master will calculate that, if he injure his slave, he injures his property—he injures himself. But in moments when passion is dominant, a reckless slave-holder will think nothing about consequences. Yet his slave may flee. The common instincts of humanity will impel disinterested persons to aid the fugitive. And the successful flight of one will encourage others to make the attempt.

IV. THE OPPRESSED HAVE A CLAIM UPON OUR PRACTICAL SYMPATHY. The Hebrews could not easily discover the real merits of quarrel between a foreign slave and his master. But they would know that a slave would not leave his master and his home without sufficient cause. It was a precarious chance how an alien slave would find a livelihood. Therefore the refugee had a claim upon the Hebrews' sympathy. The oppressed of every laud have a large place in the heart of God, and every friend of God will strive to imitate his deeds. Emmanuel's land is to be the laud of liberty. Liberty may not suddenly be given to every man, in any condition of mind; yet liberty is man's birthright—his true inheritance; for this he is to prepare. A man is dwarfed, stunted, deformed, if he be not free.—D.

Deuteronomy 23:18

Unacceptable offerings.

The value of religious offerings in God's sight is not measured by their magnitude, nor by splendor, but by the spiritual motive that originates them.

I. GOD HAS NO SEED OF HUMAN OFFERINGS. He is absolutely independent of his creatures. "The gold and silver" are already his. If he had need of these things, he would create them. The advantage of religious offerings belongs to man. The offerer is the party blest. Spiritual benefits (not to be measured or weighed in earthly balances) are obtained in exchange.

II. ILL-GOTTEN GAINS ARE BY HIM REJECTED. To accept such would be to connive at wickedness. It is often for this profane end that men bring them. They hope thereby to make the residue the more safe, and a base calling the more respectable. In a word, they desire to take God into unhallowed partnership with themselves. To him this can be only abomination—a stench in his nostrils.

III. RELIGIOUS OFFERINGS ARE MEASURED BY THEIR MORAL WORTH. The mite of the widow was estimated by the genuine love that inspired it. It was a solid nugget of spiritual affection. Seldom has the love of the human heart been so completely converted into a material gift. It was but one remove from creation. That widow would have poured out her very soul in creating gifts for God if she might. It is this sterling and practical love which God values. Offerings that are not the exponents of grateful feeling are nothing worth. God has a scale of moral arithmetic, and all religious offerings are placed in the balances of the sanctuary.—D.

Deuteronomy 23:19, Deuteronomy 23:20

Usury lawful and unlawful.

From all conduct the element of selfishness is to be eliminated. All forms of honorable commerce are permitted, because, while the end is gain, it is not solely gain; seller and buyer both obtain advantage.

I. OUR CONDUCT IS TO BE REGULATED BY RELATIONSHIP. Kindly feeling is due unto all men. We should honor man as man. Yet the conduct which is commendable to a stranger is not commendable to a father. According to the degree of propinquity should be the degree of affection. A brother has claims upon us which a stranger has not. Our stock of affection is limited; we are to bestow it on most suitable objects. Our capacity for doing good is measurable; we must expend it with care,

II. MONEY GAIN IS NOT THE BUSINESS OF LIFE. There are occupations nobler than money-getting. Contentment is better than gold. The culture of the mind is better. The discipline of the moral powers is better. Brotherly kindness is better. The diffusion of knowledge is better. Earthly prosperity is to be hailed especially as a condition for doing good. To have, and yet to refuse to help, is a sin. That man's gold is a curse.

III. YET MONEY GAIN, WITHIN PROPER LIMITS, IS WISE AND HONORABLE. Properly viewed, moderate usury is but a species of commerce. If with my loan of a thousand pounds a shrewd merchant makes a gain of a hundred pounds in addition, it is just that I should receive a part thereof, as the earning of my loan. If one has money capital and another has skill and a third has time, it is simply equitable that the temporal earnings of the partnership should be divided, in some proportion, among all. If I obtain fair usury for the use of my money from honest traders, have power to help impoverished brethren to an extent I could not otherwise. God had not intended that the Hebrews should be a commercial nation, Their business was to be witness-bearers to the world of heavenly truth.—D.

Deuteronomy 23:21-23

The place of vows.

It is not obligatory to make vows; it is obligatory to fulfill them. We are often free to contract an obligation; we are not free to violate it. A man is not bound to marry; having married, he is bound to cherish his wife.

I. VOWS IMPLY SPECIAL ACTS OF KINDNESS ON THE PART OF GOD. The ordinary course of God's bounty baffles verbal description. The forethought, the active energy, the well-laid plans, the unslumbering attention, the changeless affection, which are required for the preservation of human life, no language can express. But this is not all that God does for us. In times of unusual perplexity, special guidance is often vouchsafed to us. When surrounding events seemed most adverse to our interests, in answer to prayer, sudden deliverance has come. A precious life was in jeopardy: human help was unavailing; but God graciously interposed, and midnight suddenly became a summer noon.

II. VOWS IMPLY, ON OUR PART, DEFECTIVE PIETY. Vows are made under the influence of excessive fear or from an influx of sudden joy. In a time of sharp distress, a man will put himself under special obligation, if God will grant his request. Or, when some expected good has fallen to one's lot, in the impulse of sudden gladness we vow to devote some special offering unto God. Now, this is not wrong. Still there is something better. It is better to be always in a frame of trustful feeling, so that we may welcome whatever God ordains, and realize that what God does is best. It is better to rely upon his promise that help shall come in times of need! It is better to cultivate the habit of frequent offerings to God's cause, so that no vow is needed to prick us up to the full discharge of duty. The vow implies that we cannot trust ourselves at all times to give to God his due. Therefore our endeavor should be to cultivate a childlike and a steadfast faith. It is good that the "heart be established with grace."

III. VOWS CREATE FOR US A NEW OBLIGATION. Having made a debt, we are bound to pay it; but it is better not to accumulate a debt. Men lay a trap to catch themselves. Conscious of deficient trust and love towards God, they take advantage of some favorable state of feeling to make new obligations from which it shall be difficult to escape. In their better moods of mind they create new motives and new sanctions for religious conduct, which they cannot remove when the better feeling has vanished. They use the rising tide to bear their barque away. They utilize summer piety to provide for winter coldness. But having framed a religious vow, truth requires that it should be scrupulously kept. To violate a vow would injure our own soul's life—would deaden and stupefy conscience, would justly provoke our God. No common sin is this.—D.

Deuteronomy 23:24, Deuteronomy 23:25

Possession of earthly things only partial

The mode and condition of human life in this world serve a moral purpose. A material body requires material food; material food implies material possessions. The use of these affords fine scope for the development of many virtues. Without material possessions, selfishness would scarcely be possible; nor could some moral qualities, as generosity, find a field for exercise.

I. EARTHLY ESTATE ADMITS ONLY OF A PARTIAL POSSESSION. We cannot retain for our exclusive use the beauty of the hills, or the fragrance of the flowers within territory called "our own." It is not possible for us to appropriate to our personal use all the products of our fields. Restrict the enjoyment as we may, we can succeed only to a limited extent. And why should we make the attempt? It adds immensely to our real pleasure to share the products with others. Indiscriminate appropriation of harvests would do good to no one. It would diminish productiveness. It would create waste; it would promote idleness. But profuse generosity is not only pleasurable: it is profitable. We gain the esteem of men. The whole community bands together to protect our crops. God smiles on our fields and our toil.

II. HUNGER HAS UNQUESTIONABLE CLAIM ON NATURE'S PRODUCTS. Be our skilful labor to secure a harvest what it may, the largest possible, yet we cannot forget that God too has contributed largely to make our fields productive. In God's contribution to the result, his poor ones ought to share. Lest the ordinary philanthropy of men might not suffice for this need of poverty, God himself has taken the poor under his sheltering wing; he has become their Champion, he has proclaimed a law for the protection of the needy. Inasmuch as God retains absolute proprietorship over all created things, and counts the richest men as his chief stewards, he has fullest right to determine on what conditions his bounty shall be enjoyed. When man has added his labor to the result, when he has garnered his crops, the condition is changed; but so long as it is standing in the field, hunger may find a meal.

III. THOUGH HUNGER HAS A CLAIM, COVETOUSNESS HAS NONE. The laborer or the weary traveler had a statutory right to relieve his existing hunger; he had no right to carry any fruit or corn away. This would be to abuse a precious privilege. "Thus far might they go, and no farther." The path of obedience always has been narrow. Here was a test of trust in God. He who has provided a meal for the hungry man today can also provide another meal tomorrow. Or, if one door is closed, cannot God open another? Covetousness is suicidal. In the long run it defeats its own ends. Careful obedience is a first fruit of genuine trust. Give a bad man an inch, and he will take an ell. By this he may be known. But a good man is as careful of another man's possessions as of his own. This is but another outcome of the command, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."—D.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 23". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/deuteronomy-23.html. 1897.
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